CAPT. HERB REMEMBERED - There is an empty seat in the back corner of the media center this weekend, an area that is usually filled with booming laughter and lively stories, replaced instead with a single ballcap laid there in memoriam of Capt. Herb Emory.
That voice went silent in April when Emory died from a sudden, massive heart attack while assisting victims of a car accident in front of his home.
For anyone who has ever lived in Atlanta, Capt. Herb was the voice of drive-time traffic, instructing commuters on backups and delays throughout the city. For race fans everywhere, he was one of the sport's biggest proponents, hosting a weekly racing show on WSB-AM for nearly 20 years.
This weekend, Atlanta Motor Speedway officials and NASCAR drivers will be honoring the memory of the great man who gave so much to the sport.
Atlanta Motor Speedway has painted a special "Capt. Herb" logo in the corner of the frontstretch ballfield and will honor his vast community service efforts during a pre-race presentation to his widow, Karen Emory.
On the track, NASCAR Nationwide driver Chris Cockrum will be carrying a special Capt. Herb paint scheme in the Great Clips 300 to benefit Feed The Children race. It's similar to the paint scheme Cockrum ran at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in Daytona last February.
Emory and his wife Karen went to Daytona as sponsors, rather than schlepping hundreds of pounds of radio equipment around the track to set up for a radio show. They walked down pit road with the car, huddled with the crew before the race, and Capt. Herb even took the heartbroken young driver aside for a pep talk after he crashed in the big event.
"Herb was just over the moon and was so proud of Chris and all he accomplished," Karen Emory said. "Coming down pit road to see that car with his name on it might have been Herb's proudest moment. He just felt such a connection to Chris, and to all those racers who were just barely scraping by."
The feeling was mutual. Cockrum described Capt. Herb as a second dad, a "one in a million, truly genuine person, who makes you want to do better." He said Capt. Herb has been featured somewhere on every car he's run in NASCAR, but that most of the time it's just been the deck lid. As soon as Cockrum recovered from the shock of the sudden loss of his friend and mentor, though, he knew exactly how he would honor Capt. Herb's memory.
"He did so much for me; he had me to the radio station, he had me on his show, he took me out to lunch, he invited to me to charity golf tournaments," Cockrum said. "He wouldn't want all the glitz and glamour, but it's my way of saying thank you to him. And I hope when the fans see Capt. Herb on the car, they go crazy."
And they probably will, because Capt. Herb was a friend to all. He never met a stranger - and if he really liked you, you got a nickname. When he set up his live radio remote at the speedway - first on the media center roof, and later on the concrete pad outside the back media center door - he happily spent hours connecting wires, pulling cable, setting up the WSB-AM tent and prepping for the show, all the while talking to fans who stopped by.
Karen Emory spent many race weekends serving as field producer and unpaid assistant for her husband, and she spent many "vacations" heading to other race tracks for live radio shows. It was a job she understood went with the territory from very early on in their relationship.
"It was the biggest thrill of his life when he got the radio show," Karen Emory said. "He had been trying ever since he went to work at WSB to get a racing show, and they wouldn't hear of it. Finally, Allan Vigil graciously agreed to sponsor it, and they let Herb have the show."
The Allan Vigil Ford 120 ran from 1993-2011, when sponsorship finally ran out.
"Probably the best years of his life were the years he was doing the race show," Karen Emory said, her voice cracking and her eyes filling with tears. "He would spend hours prepping for the show and trying to get drivers. And the joy it brought to him when a bunch of drivers would come by and talk to him, and when the young drivers that he'd known would come up through the ranks and still come by to talk to him. David Ragan is a great example of that."
GREAT CLIPS/FEED THE CHILDREN HELPING KIDS - The sponsors for today's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Great Clips and Feed the Children, are building 3000 backpacks at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend to give to homeless children around the Atlanta region.
The backpacks, which will be filled with new school supplies and food, are an initiative of Feed the Children called the Homeless Education Literacy Program (HELP).
"There are nearly 34,000 homeless children in Georgia, and one of the leading causes of children particularly at the beginning of the school year of not really living up to their full potential and doing as well as they could is the peer pressure around having the nicest things," Hagen said. "The homeless children often don't have new things to go back to school with so our backpack program really helps get those children off to a good start to the school year."